Mary anning's ichthyosaur. Credit: museum of natural history

Mary Anning: A hunt without a kill 

The particular specimen pictured above is of a juvenile of Ichthyosaurus anningae, named after none other than Mary Anning.

Anning was no ordinary palaeontologist. She made her first significant find when just 11 or 12 (details differ) when she discovered a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus from the Jurassic period, which created a sensation and made her famous.

Anning’s passion for fossils came from her father’s interest in fossil hunting, and a need for the income derived from them to support her family after his death.

She lived and worked in the English town of Lyme Regis, unearthing and selling large fossils to noted palaeontologists of the day and smaller ones to the tourist trade.

Lady Harriet Silvester, the widow of the former Recorder of the City of London, visited Lyme in 1824 and described Anning in her diary:

” The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

In 1823, Anning discovered the first complete Plesiosaurus. Her discoveries became key pieces of evidence for extinction. Later in her life, the Geological Society of London granted her an honorary membership.

On this day, 9 March, in 1847, Mary Anning died at the age of 47.

Related reading: The unregarded palaeontologist is born